How can I reduce my stress?

Question: As a working mother of three, I know I am sick of feeling stressed.  But can stress actually make me sick? Any suggestions as to what I can do to reduce my stress?

Answer: Dr. Karen Lawson, board certified in both Family Medicine and Holistic Medicine, writes:
Kudos to you for actually acknowledging your high stress level. Many people experience constant (and often overwhelming) stress, but simply dismiss it as an unavoidable part of life.

First of all, it might help to understand that stress is actually your body’s chemical response to an event or situation that you see (on some level) as threatening. You may have heard of the “fight or flight” response. What this means is that when you perceive a threat, your sympathetic nervous system releases stress hormones. These hormones arouse key organs, resulting in increased heart and respiratory rate, greater muscle tension, and coldness and sweatiness, among other things. This is helpful if you need to fight or run, but not so useful for the common stressors in today’s life!

In fact, a persistent, prolonged stress response may lead to a variety of adverse physical and mental health problems, including the “biggies” like high blood pressure, heart irregularities, suppressed immune system and psychological dysfunction.

So stress can make you sick. But we have more control over this than you might realize, because we can change our response to life’s stressors. In short, you have the ability to not only manage, but master your stress.

To begin, try to identify your sources of stress. Is it a challenging commute, a needy coworker, or a nagging financial concern? Are there stressors you can actually change or eliminate?

Then think about how you experience stress. How much of your reaction is unconscious and reflexive? How much is thoughtful and intentional? Do you experience backaches, irritability, or head pain? Do you listen to the signals your body is giving you?

Once you’ve identified your major stressors and your recurring reactions to them, you can more easily take charge of these challenges with intentional responses, and prevent or decrease a stress reaction by applying some simple stress mastery tips (there are lots more):

  • Practice meditation or other type of quiet reflection
  • Check out breathing techniques, which allow you to slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure
  • Use imagery to “picture” relaxing and healing scenarios
  • Adjust your attitude to eliminate a negative or defeatist mindset
  • Stop judging yourself and others. Judgment commonly leads to conflict—internal and external.
  • Try yoga, Tai Chi, and Qigong
  • Engage in expressive therapies such as art, music, or dance
  • Talk with people you trust and ask for help when you need it
  • See a counselor or attend group support sessions
  • Choose not to worry about things you cannot control
  • Have fun through sports, hobbies, or social activities

Now breathe in, breathe out, and embark on your stress mastery campaign!